If you are able-bodied and want a job, now is the time to find it.

In the 31 years that Deb Malsom has been working for Manpower, she said the current state of unemployment is the lowest she has seen in her history with the job-recruitment and placement company.

Malsom, who is regional business development manager for Manpower, covering Ames, Ankeny, Altoona, Nevada, Boone, Webster City, Humboldt and Fort Dodge, said, “With the unemployment rate of 1.5 percent (at the time of this interview in mid January), it is definitely an ‘employees’ market’.”

What that means is that there are countless opportunities for people who want jobs to get them, and there are countless opportunities for those who want to improve their job situation to do so. For younger workers, especially recent high school graduates, the great opportunities, especially in the trades areas, create a new thought process on college versus entering the work force. And for employers, there’s an important focus on staying competitive with wages and benefits to retain employees and hire good people who may be considering multiple offers.

One thing Malsom said that many companies are finding themselves willing to do right now is train good candidates on site.

“There is a great deal of talent in the younger generation — if companies are willing to take these candidates under their wing and train them, this will help with the talent shortage,” she said.

Big opportunities to train

Ross Mitchell, 19, a 2017 graduate of Nevada High School, is one example of a person who is earning a wage, while training. Mitchell was taken on not long after his high school graduation as an electrical apprentice under Jeremy Williamson, who owns Williamson Electric in Nevada. Mitchell works with Williamson one-on-one each day, learning the electrical trade, while attending class one night each week as part of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Iowa apprentice program.

“I was never a fan of high school,” said Mitchell about his reason for not wanting to go to college. But the class he takes now one night a week doesn’t feel the same as high school, he said. “I’m learning the technical stuff there, and then coming back and applying it on the job. It’s all hands-on.”

With the agreement that Williamson and Mitchell have, Williamson supplied Mitchell with the basic tools he needed and is paying for his class, with the understanding that after Mitchell completes the four-year apprentice program, he’ll stay on as an employee of Williamson for an additional two years. After that six years, Williamson said, “his options are up to him; he’ll be able to stay with me, as long as it’s a good fit” or look for other opportunities as a journeyman.

Williamson said the shortage of young people willing to do what Mitchell is doing is real. He’s good friends with a lot of his competitors, he said, and they are all seeking help. “I could actually use another journeyman right now,” Williamson said, noting that there is a lot of work available for electricians, and one apprentice at a time is all he can train.

Malsom confirms Williamson’s statement about the jobs being available.

“Anyone who has a skilled trade will be the most in demand today — electricians, carpenters, welders, maintenance mechanics,” she said. “For years we were all told to go to school and get a four-year degree; unfortunately not everyone is cut out to go to university…Parents need to understand that if their son or daughter wants to study skilled trades, many companies are paying the student to earn while they learn on the job, especially in the skilled trade areas, with more and more apprenticeships available.” And, she added, these individuals will make an excellent salary and have exceptional job security in their futures.

Williamson said presently, Mitchell makes 50 percent of what a journeyman makes and gets a bump in pay every 1,000 hours. Right now, Mitchell said what he’s earning is a livable wage, and that’s just going to get better.

What job areas are most needed?

Manpower does a yearly talent shortage survey (across the country), and for the seventh consecutive year, skilled trades — electricians, carpenters, welders, bricklayers, plasterers, plumbers, masons, etc. — are the No. 1 hardest jobs to fill in the United States. Here’s the rest of the top 10: No. 2) drivers (truck, semi, heavy good, delivery, heavy equipment, construction); No. 3) sales representatives; No. 4) teachers; No. 5) restaurant and hotel staff; No. 6) accounting and finance workers; No. 7) nurses; No. 8) laborers; No. 9) engineers (mechanical, electrical, civil); and No. 10) technicians (production, operations, maintenance).

The 12 job areas most plentiful in central Iowa right now, Malsom said, are 1) manufacturing, production, assembly; 2) forklift drivers; 3) skilled trades; 4) maintenance mechanics; 5) restaurant personnel; 6) meat packaging; 7) warehouse pick/pack; 8) shipping and receiving; 9) general laborer; 10) machine operator/CNC; 11) customer service representative; and 12) administrative/clerical.

Jeff Biehn, plant manager at 3M, a huge production company in Ames, can vouch for the number-one type of jobs that are most plentiful in this area. His company is hiring for production positions right now. “Our main need is for members of our production team, and it’s both entry-level and some of our more advanced level positions that we have open,” Biehn said. “We expect to keep hiring here well into 2018, due to growth and retirements…we need to replace those folks (who have worked many years for the company).”

Along with the production jobs, Biehn said that 3M will also, from time to time, have higher level jobs for those with college degrees, like on their process engineering team (for engineer majors) and in production, and planning and scheduling (for business majors).

One area that he said 3M has worked really hard to find good people for is in its mechanical, electrical and maintenance department. “We’ve worked very closely with the tech schools in Iowa and meet with some of the students as they go through school. I expect positions like that to be available here this year as well.”

Biehn, who has been with 3M for 16 years in multiple states, said it’s a great company to work for because “we do things the right way.” He said it’s a great place for young workers to start a career and stay. “Our plant culture is very focused on continuous improvement in everything we do, and we make it a goal to engage all of our employees in implementing that improvement.”

Development and advancement of employees is also a focus at 3M. “We have on-site training … special teams … and special project assignments … We give people lots of opportunities for development (and to be promoted within the company),” he said. 3M also offers competitive wages and benefits, an on-site occupational health nurse, an employee assistance program (counseling services), a healthy living team and a recognition program. Despite the current fight for good workers, “I like to think we’ve got good opportunities here and are still able to recruit some good team members.” 3M is one of the many companies that works with Manpower on recruitment.

The importance of work ethic

When it comes to what most employers are looking for in young people today, Malsom said “soft skills” top the chart. They want “someone who will show up for work on time, every day, who is willing to be a team player, willing to learn, dependable, trustworthy and doesn’t bring drama into the workplace.” It may seem odd to have to elaborate on this, but Malsom said, “I don’t know how many of my clients state this to me every day, ‘If we could find employees that would show up every day, be dependable and act like they want to work and learn, we would be willing to train.’”

Work ethics is so important. “A high school graduate needs to be willing to show the employer that they have a good work ethic, they are willing to be a team player, they can use their critical thinking skills, they show up for work every day and they are willing to learn and grow with a company and not just quit when something better comes along, but show some loyalty,” Malsom said.

Jordan Gibson, a 2015 Nevada High School graduate, said he can attest to the importance of work ethic. Gibson went straight into a job after high school, because he admits he wasn’t ever a good student. “I always worked throughout school and as soon as I graduated, I started working full time. I started doing electrical work and just didn’t enjoy it … so I quickly found another job doing something I always wanted to do.”

Gibson now works for Halbrook Excavating and Central Iowa Towing and Recovery (just winters). He’s had no trade school, but has been sent to a couple classes for training and gone to OSHA classes. He’s presently working on getting a Class A driver’s license.

“I feel I make extremely good wages. I work a lot of long hours, but still bring home more than most families combined bring in. The company I work for is an awesome ‘family style’ business and are always looking for ways to help expand my knowledge, sending me to classes in our field to give me better skills…there is always something to learn.”

Gibson has found that the job opportunities for people without college degrees are endless right now. “I have had many job offers just by other companies seeing my work ethic,” he said.

Malsom wants people looking for jobs, whether you are young or an older worker, to know that Manpower can help find opportunities to “get your foot in the door.”

“When a candidate comes to Manpower, we like to interview them and find out what they want to do and then assess their skills through our testing to determine what they would be best at. If they need additional computer skills, we can offer them training online to better their skill sets and make them more marketable. They can build their resume while working at Manpower.”

Future Ready Iowa (FRI) is a program that the governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, is also excited about when it comes to employment opportunities. In a recent press release through Iowa Workforce Development, Reynolds said, “(FRI) will help communities within Iowa’s legislative districts better collaborate on solutions toward meeting the skilled labor needs in their areas…” FRI’s goal is to increase the percentage of Iowans who have training or education beyond high school to 70 percent by 2025.

Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend also commented. “There are such great jobs and opportunities in the state of Iowa — we just need to do a better job of educating Iowans about what those opportunities are. The manufacturing jobs available are not your grandfather’s manufacturing environment. These workplaces are clean. They’re highly technical jobs that pay at a very high rate that any parent would be proud to have their children pursue.”